LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
A statement from NGOs on the direction the CDRM should take towards reform
The NGOs Network for Political and Social Reform has urged the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) to revoke its order restricting civil liberties, especially the right to assembly and freedom of speech and expression, restore the 1997 Constitution and set up an interim government consisting of representatives from various professions who are honourable, ethical and willing to undertake political reforms.
It is obvious that the military coup by CDRM has given a blow to democracy in Thailand and has affected the rights and liberties of people in all aspects. NGOs Network for Political and Social Reform, consisting of organisation and individuals listed below are committed to democracy and human rights and are willing to cooperate with individuals, groups and organisations for the reformation of politics and society. We believe that political and social reforms are necessary to restore democracy and civil liberties in Thailand. Therefore, in order to meet our objectives and to restore democracy and civil liberties, the NGOs network for Political and Social Reform would like to propose the following:
1 - Terminate/cancel the order that restricts civil liberties, especially the right to assembly or the rights of more than five persons to gather, and freedom of speech and expression.
2 - Restore and declare the 1997 Constitution as the interim constitution, especially sections on rights and liberties, people participation, local administration and independent bodies including the National Human Rights Commission, instead of setting up a group to draft a new interim constitution.
The political reform council that will be set up to draft the new constitution must be set up through a participatory and transparent process and must consist of representatives of all sectors of civil society. People must be able to participate in drafting of the new constitution and also in its adoption.
3 - A proposal on an interim government:
l The cabinet members must have the political will to reform politics.
l The cabinet members must be accepted as honourable persons and should not have any corruption charges filed against them or be implicated in scams concerning state property.
l The cabinet members must not be in any way related to the Thaksin regime and should not have acted or behaved in a manner that is undemocratic, or be engaged in selling or buying state enterprise stocks.
l The cabinet members must consist of representatives from all sectors/professions and also reflect a gender balance.
4 - The agenda of the interim government:
l Support the national election committee to arrange a free and fair election.
l Review some problematic policies under the Thaksin administration such as free trade agreements and other international obligations; mega projects such as dam and irrigation projects; privatisation and the sale of shares in state enterprises on the stock exchange; and special economic and tourism development zones.
The NGOs Network for Political and Social Reform
Coup leaders should have frozen Thaksin govt's assets
Independent of any measure taken by the CDRM or the independent auditor, the attorney general or some other agency or person with proper standing should seek an injunction from the Administrative Court or the Civil Court to freeze Thaksin's assets, including his nominees'. In the months ahead it will not be difficult to prove the case of income tax evasion, unjust enrichment and outright criminal offences. If Thaksin has a valid defence for all the windfalls while he was in office, let's hear it in a court of law.
Actually, we should go back to the baht devaluation in July 1997, when Thaksin was the deputy prime minister and his patron, Thanong Bidaya, was the finance minister.
Don't be surprised if all the loot disappears
Congratulations to General Sonthi for starting the process of clearing out undesirables from positions of authority. Let's hope the next instalment at the feeding trough is not as heartless as Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai followers were.
Meanwhile, the former prime minister's wife could be shuttling billions out of their 60 Thai bank accounts at Thai banks (to overseas accounts?) - because the president of the Bank of Thailand didn't have the wherewithal to freeze Thai Rak Thai bank accounts - as should have been done in a coup situation.
As the months and years roll by, and legal proceedings come to bear, where will the culprits and their money be? Don't be surprised if they're entrenched outside Thailand and untouchable by the short arm of Thai law. If they're found innocent of cheating the Thai people, then okay, the authorities can un-freeze their accounts and offer an apology. If they're found guilty, the money in the frozen accounts would help offset whatever fines are levied.
Upcountry poor will bear the brunt of the results
It's interesting to note that in retrospect the greatest threat to Thailand's democracy was not Thaksin, who admittedly did do damage to independent checks-and-balances mechanisms and was self-serving. Rather the major danger to democracy was the elite of Bangkok.
This newspaper has provided an ideal and constant example of what people who form Bangkok's intelligentsia think. Opinion pieces too numerous to mention hammered Thaksin with a verve that is usually reserved elsewhere for true dictators (I'm talking Pol Pot style tyranny, not a guy who sells off rights to the country's mobile phone services) and also were repeatedly condescending concerning Thaksin's rural support. The message: The ignorant masses in the countryside vote for Thaksin; the better educated here in Bangkok know better.
The message now to the people in Isaan is this: your votes don't count and neither do your opinions. You voted for Thaksin both out of ignorance and greed - his populist programmes did more for rural healthcare than any prior administration sure, but this came at the expense of your Bangkok betters. Once again the unfortunate axiom that upcountry people elect a government, but Bangkok gets rid of them holds true.
Now we have a military junta in place. This is what Bangkok's "democracy advocates" have basically allowed to happen. Bangkok's elite couldn't be happier (I do not buy for a minute the dodgy polls your newspaper publishes, which says everyone loves the coup) but I'm left to wonder who gets the dung-flavoured end of the stick?
Foreign reaction to this coup is almost entirely negative, with the sole major exception of China (that in itself is very telling) and foreign direct investment is bound to suffer, and tourism to drop. The people who will suffer are not the smug, gloating elite of Bangkok, but the "grassroots people", the people who work low-end jobs in the tourist industry, and if the economic effects are strong enough layoffs are bound to follow in every sector. It's done now and cannot be reversed, but I hope that if the junta does allow free elections in a year's time, whatever the results, if Thaksin or someone is elected by the majority of Thai people, that the same situation does not repeat itself. I hope Bangkok's elite can put aside its self-serving condescending ways and allow the institution of democracy to cement itself in this country.
There was really not much of a democracy to overthrow
How can anybody still keep asking whether this coup undermines democracy? There was no real democracy to undermine when 90 per cent of the population is excluded from participating in governing their country as MPs or when an autocrat in the guise of being "democratically elected" emasculates the checks-and-balance institutions and amasses unbelievable sums of ill-gotten money by policy corruption for five years. If this is democracy then I'm happy Thailand has lost it. No military dictatorship has ever been this corrupt, and there were many in Thailand's past. Hopefully, we will see cleaner elections next time with the grassroots making a more informed choice this time and not giving in to the highest bidder. You get what you deserve after all.
There are many divisions between Islam and the West
There is a persistent communication gap between the West and Islam.
On Islam's side, it is partly due to the strict interpretation of the Koran and other religious texts, which do dominate the Muslim-on-the-street's daily life to a much greater extent than Bible and Gospels do the average Westerner - with the exception of the Bible Belt and the fundamentalist Christian sects, luckily still a minority.
Strangely enough, this point constitutes an overlooked part of the Pope's controversial lecture.
Partly, it is also due to their clerics' mode of reasoning, which allows less freedom of decision and action to the individual than the tradition of the Greek logic.
Another factor is the influence exercised for the last 300 years by the fundamentalist ultra-orthodox Wahabis. It was born as a reaction of the decadence of the Ottoman Empire and the pressure of the invading European colonial powers and expanded to the Indian subcontinent as Deobandism. These two sects purported to bring Islam back to the golden era of the Prophet.
Naturally, social customs, such as their treatment of women, obsolete elsewhere, still hold and will take a long time to evolve along more liberal lines.
The last major factor is the narrow madrassa education: It remains religious and not wide-ranging, with no emphasis in science, technology and the history of ideas. Therefore, the understanding of its products rarely goes beyond the mystic and, in daily life, the commercial and the political.
Dr Massimo-F Buonaiuto